MANILA – A human rights lawyer on Thursday questioned the swift passage of a bill that grants government forces increased powers against terrorists while the country dealt with the more pressing COVID-19 pandemic.
“Ang COVID-19 ay nandiyan pa. Mas urgent ang legislation for that. Bakit bigla nalang naging urgent itong anti-terrorist act,” Free Legal Assistance Group chairman Chel Diokno told Teleradyo.
He also raised provisions of House Bill 6875 or Anti-Terrorism Act of 2020 such as prolonged detention without charge and designating any person or group as terrorists.
“Ito ay unprecedented. Under our legal system, ang puwedeng magpa-detain ng suspect ay judge lang. Ngayon ang nangyari, inalis ang judge at ibinigay sa Anti-Terrorism Council (ATC) ang kapangyarihan,” Diokno said.
(This is unprecedented. Under our legal system, only a judge is allowed to have a person detained. What happened now is it takes away the power from the judiciary and gives it to the Anti-Terrorism Council.)
The House of Representatives on Wednesday passed the measure, which was certified as urgent by President Rodrigo Duterte, by a vote of 173-31, with 29 abstentions. The Senate passed a similar measure in February.
Under the proposed bill, anyone can be detained for a period of 14 days without charges, which can be extended by another 10 days, Diokno said.
Section 25 of the proposed law also states that the Anti Terror Council can designate any individual, group of persons or organization as terrorists if they find probable cause.
For Diokno, instead of focusing on this controversial bill, lawmakers should also concentrate on fixing the weak justice system.
“Hindi mga bagong batas tulad ng anti-terrorism ang kailangan natin. Ang kailangan natin [ay] ayusin ang hustisya ng ating bayan. Kahit mahirap ka man, maliit kang tao, makakaasa ka na mabibigyan ka ng hustisya,” he said.
(We don’t need new laws such as anti-terrorism bill. What we need is fixed our judicial system. Even if you’re poor, you can be given justice.)
The Palace had defended the measure, saying "no draconian" provisions will be introduced to amend the Human Security Act of 2007.